Review of Jerome Bixby’s “Man from Earth”

When movies stop dressing themselves up as an expertise on religious discourse, we will all be better for it. Movies that show the human condition—the historic patterns of creation, fall, and redemption—do well enough. But when a film stoops to preaching through fixed dialogue and an unchallenged premise, we see a patronizing of the art. I refer to “Jerome Bixby’s Man from Earth.” The story—if one may so describe this non-narrative dialogue that strings along the extremes of human emotions and responses—is about John Oldman who, after 10 years in one place, decides to move on. Before doing so, he takes the risk of revealing that he is in fact 14,000 years old.

Thus begins the conversation between the historian (John), the Christian literalist, the Biologist, the Psychiatrist, and the Archaeologist. Continued cross examination eventually drives John to the confession that is at the heart of the film: He was/is Jesus. Well, to put it mildly, he was the human who tried to teach the principles of the Buddha—who was followed by some dudes (aka Disciples) who bunked up his teaching (despite over 1000 biblical witnesses) and then dressed it all up in myth and ideology (and were willing to die for it!). Thus the film runs as a poor answer to true questions about Christianity—presented as true because of the professions (and confessions) of the characters.

Based on the classic “liar, lunatic, or truth”—the movie spins round and round a shallowly challenged premise offered by the main character. Nor does it remotely resemble the science fiction to which it is compared—the box tantalizes with “from the writers of Star Trek” Dressed up with new age music that played an indistinct tune, the film presents itself as fiction, but is more the commentary seeking the upending of established Judeo-Christian religious views—oh, and not to be complete without some plea for the environment, as in this bit of dialogue about religion:

Dan, “What do you think about it [religion]?”
John, “You can’t get there with thought.”
Dan, “You have faith?”
John, “In a lot of things.”
Sandy, “Do you have faith in the future of the race?”
John, “I’ve seen species come and go. Depends on their balance with the environment.
Dan, “We’ve made a mess of it.”
John, “There’s still time, if we use it well.”

Ironically, despite the fact that John has lived 14,000 years (he only remembers recent history) and he can tell us about Columbus, Picasso, the Buddha, and other such historical figures—he doesn’t speak any of the languages of those proposed epochs: no hints of French or German, Koine Greek, nor even the slightest Latin phrase—like Tabula Rasa which means clean slate (which is what I think the directors hoped we would be before their…ah, em, theatrical attempts). It’s the weakness of the film, and comical. For a moment, should the audience suspend all disbelief at this philosophic discourse—the 14K man who meets all the right type of occupations to be able to prove himself sane, non-manipulative, and not a liar (“then he must be Lord!”)—it shows the shallowness of the directors. Sirs, if you mean to string me along through such endless dialogue, at least do me the honor of doing some justice to the issue of language. For your John speaks, but long before, God spoke—and “t’weren’t” in the Queen’s English.”


Eric D. Wilkinson said...

I believe that any film (or art for that matter), whether you agree with it or not, that provokes the discussion about faith is a good thing. To often, most movies have nothing to say and are nothing more than "empty calories" for the brain, unlike "The Man From Earth", which begs discussion following the movie.

Why else would you be blogging about it?

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comments. I fully embrace the opportunity to discuss and consider—but I am not at all of the mind that “any” or “all” communicative endeavor(s) are automatically nor necessarily beneficial or productive. A mathematician who insisted on talking about theoretic problems, but who began with the insistence that advanced calculus be excluded from the conversation—actually limits honest dialogue and discussion. The boundaries are artificial.

Likewise, the writer/director of this film has/have set up such tight constraints as to reduce honest consideration and conversation to existential banter. Historicity is either dismissed or truncated. Proven and prove-able aspects are made suspect (or completely altered). While presenting itself as an “honest” (if not fictitious) examination of philosophic and religious thought—it proves that anyone with any gathering of select educated individuals (which in this case is neither comprehensively exhaustive, nor mutually exclusive) into a closed, furniture-less room; relying only upon the collective education, experience, and beliefs of those individuals—while discounting any objective or substantial (non-existential) facet—may rightly arrive at any “possible” conclusion on any “possible” topic. Battlestar Galactica (tv), Atonement, Jumper, and the Bee Movie actually invite more honest conversation because they do not set the boundaries of consideration at the walls of one man’s experience, knowledge, or cabin.

I am blogging about it in order that these "shadows of reflection" might encourage others to spend their time...in better ways.